Bleacher Report and Showtime have teamed up for Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story, a Bleacher Report-produced documentary premiering on Showtime Friday at 10 p.m. ET/PT as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. Earlier this month, director and producer Johnny Sweet spoke to AA about why he was so intrigued by Artest’s story.
“I grew up in New York, I’m the same age as Ron, and I followed his career for a long time. I watched him play when he was in college, and then when I was at ESPN I covered the NBA my whole 10 years there and so I covered him there. And I always felt he was guileless, authentic, obviously polarizing, but there was no lie in him. And I felt, after he thanked his psychiatrist after winning the championship and said it without any pre-planned PSA or a TED Talks kind of thing, he just said it because he meant it, I felt, especially with the climate we are now with mental health, that that was an important story to be told.”
Sweet said the film tells the story of not just that moment, but of Artest’s whole journey with regards to mental health.
“Everything that led up to him saying that, because he’s been trying, he’s been getting counseling and treatment since he was eight years old, so it’s been a very long journey for him through this process. And I felt going through all the good and bad days you go through in order to reach this point was important, you know, probably the most important basketball story in the last 20 years in my opinion. Obviously I’m a little biased, but that’s how I feel.”
However, while Sweet always planned to cover that moment, it wasn’t until his interview with Artest he realized that mental health was the touchstone of the film.
“I didn’t know it was going to be the main focus. We were going to talk to him about it. Initially we wanted to highlight where he came from, because he came from a very culturally important era, in terms of Queens, in terms of Queensbridge. But when we sat down with Ron, it was like a four and a half hour interview, 30 minutes in we knew that this was the important focus and theme of the film and it had to be the main drive of the story arc. So we stayed with that because we felt it was important.”
There are plenty of other aspects covered too, including music. As per the release about it, Quiet Storm is “infused with the music of Queensbridge, once regarded as the rap and hip hop mecca of the world,” and Sweet said that music was key to connecting viewers to that area (a public housing development in Queens where Artest grew up).
“It contributes in terms of an authenticity standpoint. Ron is from Queensbridge, and Queensbridge, the borough as a whole…this might be a poor comparison, but if you look at Nashville to country music, Queensbridge and the borough of Queens during that era to rap music are kind of similar. You’ve got some of the best lyricists that have ever performed in this genre, and Ron grew up with them before they were all famous. He was there for all the anecdotes that Nas and Havoc and Prodigy and Capone-N-Noreaga all discussed in their tracks. So I felt that was important. And also the foreshadowing of his problems with the Pacers revolved around him and his ambition of setting up his music label, because he asked for time off leading up to the 2004-05 season, because he wanted to focus on his rap label. And I thought it was important; while it’s entertaining, it’s also foreshadowing to those series of events that leads to the chemistry issues with the Pacers.”
The film sees Sweet talk to a number of Artest’s former teammates, and he said their different perspectives were valuable.
“I felt we got objective insight. We spoke with teammates that obviously liked him and we spoke with teammates that had problems with him. We wanted both sides. So we spoke with Kobe Bryant, we spoke with Jermaine O’Neal, we spoke with Stephen Jackson, we spoke with Lamar Odom, who’s known him since he was 14 years old. And they were able to deliver important insights not just to him as a player, but what was going on in his mind at the time. Some of them were having trouble understanding who he was and what he was going through, because there’s such a stigma around this topic.
A particularly interesting interview is with psychologist Dr. Santhi Pariasamy, the recipient of that on-court shoutout, and someone who’s continued to work with Artest.
“She’s still his psychologist today. He actually thanked her, he thanks her in his post-championship on-the-court interview after winning the 2010 title, that’s who he mistakenly referred to as a psychiatrist when really she’s a psychologist. We felt we needed authentic info from that world, and Ron gave us permission to speak with her about it.”
Quiet Storm is Bleacher Report’s second feature-length documentary, and Sweet also directed the first, Vick. He said both films are unified by trying to present controversial subjects objectively.
“Vick and Ron are obviously both polarizing topics, but my main thing was always that I wanted to stay objective in telling these stories. My opinion on the matter, on their stories, honestly doesn’t matter. It’s all about how the viewer feels, and how the viewer feels either way is the right one. I try to remove myself as a journalist out of painting any guy in any light. With someone like Mike, who was pretty polarizing, same thing with Ron, I wanted to maintain that consistency.”
The film has been well-received so far, including winning best documentary at the 2019 Santa Barbara Film Festival. Sweet said he’s seen a lot of reaction involving people talking about their own experiences with mental health, and he thinks that’s important.
“Judging from all the film festivals that we’ve showed this at, the Q and As afterwards have not really been questions, they’ve been people standing up and giving testimonies to their own conditions or to family members that they’ve lived with and help in their lives, or friends. There is a connection to mental illness and
mental health basically with almost every human being on the planet. And Ron’s openness in going all in about all the mental triggers that led to everything, the exercises and the counseling that led him to now where he’s a very content person. In my opinion, I think it’s relatable to just about any viewer anywhere, no matter what age or background.”
Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story premieres on Showtime Friday, May 31 at 10 p.m. ET/PT; it will be available on demand after that.